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Boards of elections can count mail-in ballots in October



A judge ruled Friday afternoon that Maryland boards of elections can start counting mail-in ballots before Election Day. The Maryland State Board of Elections filed an emergency petition to ask a judge to let local boards of election begin canvassing mail-in ballots in October instead of after the Nov. 8 election as mandated by state law.SBE said it’s bracing for more than 1 million — possibly 1.3 million — people to cast their vote by mail in the 2022 general election. The judge agreed that if officials can’t get a head start on the counting, it could delay swearing-in of officials and erode public trust in the process.”There is no doubt that the increased number of mail-in ballots will have an enormous affect on the process of this election,” Montgomery County Circuit Court Administrative Judge James A. Bonifant wrote in his ruling. “Mandatory deadlines will be missed if the court takes no action.”Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox took legal action in an attempt to block the SBE’s emergency petition. The two sides appeared in court Tuesday.In granting SBE’s emergency petition, the judge said he was issuing a one-time only suspension of state law that bans counting mailed ballots until after Election Day proper. Per the ruling, ballots can be counted as early as Oct. 1, but results would not be released until election night.Montgomery County Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-District 17, whose bill concerning this issue was passed by the General Assembly but vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, attended Friday’s hearing and said she is thrilled and relieved by the judge’s decision.”He analyzed the arguments by the opponents and ultimately concluded that indeed it was right for democracy that mail-in ballots be counted in a timely way,” Kagan said. “Starting Oct. 1, each of our 24 jurisdictions are going to have the option of starting to open, review, process and tabulate, but not publicize, the results of the deluge of mail-in ballots.” The SBE considered this is an emergency. Cox said it’s unconstitutional and that there’s no emergency, saying it was known there would be more mail. WBAL-TV 11 News reached out to Cox for comment.In his ruling, the judge said Friday that rather than being unconstitutional, the power to a make this change is granted to him by the constitution.An assistant attorney general for Maryland who argued Tuesday on behalf of the SBE told the judge, “There is solid precedent that the court has the power” to do this after the Maryland Court of Appeals adjusted the primary election date.The SBE released a statement after the ruling was announced, saying it is pleased by the court’s decision.”This ruling provides election officials with additional time to canvass and tabulate these ballots to ensure that all critical election-related deadlines established by law are met. It also enables elections officials to return to a well-established process of canvassing mail-in ballots prior to Election Day, which was allowed in the 2020 General Election,” the SBE’s statement reads. The communications director for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore’s campaign told 11 News: “The court today ruled in the interests of democracy and common sense and shot down Dan Cox’s dangerous efforts to undermine our electoral process.”Hogan, the incumbent governor who’s serving out his second term, released a statement Friday afternoon, saying: “We welcome Judge Bonifant’s decision allowing the State Board of Elections to institute early canvassing for the general election, as I did in 2020 during the pandemic. It worked well in that election, but partisan legislators dropped the ball on adopting our successful approach, making this step necessary. We thank the court for acting swiftly, and encourage Marylanders to take part in the electoral process, make sure their registration is up to date, and consider volunteering to serve as an election judge.”

A judge ruled Friday afternoon that Maryland boards of elections can start counting mail-in ballots before Election Day.

The Maryland State Board of Elections filed an emergency petition to ask a judge to let local boards of election begin canvassing mail-in ballots in October instead of after the Nov. 8 election as mandated by state law.

SBE said it’s bracing for more than 1 million — possibly 1.3 million — people to cast their vote by mail in the 2022 general election. The judge agreed that if officials can’t get a head start on the counting, it could delay swearing-in of officials and erode public trust in the process.

“There is no doubt that the increased number of mail-in ballots will have an enormous affect on the process of this election,” Montgomery County Circuit Court Administrative Judge James A. Bonifant wrote in his ruling. “Mandatory deadlines will be missed if the court takes no action.”

Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox took legal action in an attempt to block the SBE’s emergency petition. The two sides appeared in court Tuesday.

In granting SBE’s emergency petition, the judge said he was issuing a one-time only suspension of state law that bans counting mailed ballots until after Election Day proper. Per the ruling, ballots can be counted as early as Oct. 1, but results would not be released until election night.

Montgomery County Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-District 17, whose bill concerning this issue was passed by the General Assembly but vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, attended Friday’s hearing and said she is thrilled and relieved by the judge’s decision.

“He analyzed the arguments by the opponents and ultimately concluded that indeed it was right for democracy that mail-in ballots be counted in a timely way,” Kagan said. “Starting Oct. 1, each of our 24 jurisdictions are going to have the option of starting to open, review, process and tabulate, but not publicize, the results of the deluge of mail-in ballots.”

The SBE considered this is an emergency. Cox said it’s unconstitutional and that there’s no emergency, saying it was known there would be more mail. WBAL-TV 11 News reached out to Cox for comment.

In his ruling, the judge said Friday that rather than being unconstitutional, the power to a make this change is granted to him by the constitution.

An assistant attorney general for Maryland who argued Tuesday on behalf of the SBE told the judge, “There is solid precedent that the court has the power” to do this after the Maryland Court of Appeals adjusted the primary election date.

The SBE released a statement after the ruling was announced, saying it is pleased by the court’s decision.

“This ruling provides election officials with additional time to canvass and tabulate these ballots to ensure that all critical election-related deadlines established by law are met. It also enables elections officials to return to a well-established process of canvassing mail-in ballots prior to Election Day, which was allowed in the 2020 General Election,” the SBE’s statement reads.

The communications director for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore’s campaign told 11 News: “The court today ruled in the interests of democracy and common sense and shot down Dan Cox’s dangerous efforts to undermine our electoral process.”

Hogan, the incumbent governor who’s serving out his second term, released a statement Friday afternoon, saying: “We welcome Judge Bonifant’s decision allowing the State Board of Elections to institute early canvassing for the general election, as I did in 2020 during the pandemic. It worked well in that election, but partisan legislators dropped the ball on adopting our successful approach, making this step necessary. We thank the court for acting swiftly, and encourage Marylanders to take part in the electoral process, make sure their registration is up to date, and consider volunteering to serve as an election judge.”



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